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Santee Cooper Blog: Observing the Creation of a New Industry

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 11:57 AM | Anonymous
By Elizabeth Kress in Green Power
Working in renewables involves searching for new, sustainable ways of producing electricity that use sources that are replenished by nature. Wind or solar are more straightforward choices for renewables, but biomass sometimes gets a little harder to define or explain. Is a landfill a sustainable source? Considering what's in a municipal solid waste landfill will generate methane gas for 40-odd years, it is a long term generating source from natural decomposition. Is it sustainable to combust wood to make electricity? If the wood can be re-grown or obtained as a byproduct of other processes, then it fits a sustainable model, especially for carbon-emission concerns. And it is especially helpful if transportation of the wood fuel is minimized by using local sources.

Our contracts with EDF-Renewable Energy to buy electricity generated from wood waste are creating some new supplier channels in the wood markets. The EDF-RE plants in Dorchester and Allendale counties are smaller-sized operations (as woody biomass plants go), designed specifically for producing electricity. Having these on the smaller side makes it harder to achieve economies of scale, however the flip side is that there is less impact on the local forestry markets that already exist.

Our foremost South Carolina Forestry Commission statistician, Tim Adams, says, "Biomass plants like the EDF-Renewable Energy plants near Harleyville and Allendale are easier to locate within a typical South Carolina woodbasket. Logging residues, understory thinnings and urban wood waste can be sourced from a 2-3 county area for one of these EDF-sized plants. It's conceivable that there could be a biomass plant in every county in South Carolina in a fully-developed biomass market."

In the case of the EDF-RE plants, we are able to observe new suppliers and sources that are being created to meet a new local need. People start to figure out that there is a facility that uses wood waste or residues. At Santee Cooper, for example, our investment recovery department has been looking to reduce our waste streams, and realizes now there may be a use for scrap wood. Also, our tree trimming crews need a way to get rid of their wood; if there was just a way to efficiently collect it and make sure it is chopped or ground to the size EDF needs.

The word "efficiently" covers a lot of details. Collecting, hauling and grinding or chipping take time and work, which costs money. Finding people who devise ways to do this efficiently is where a new industry is created.

In the world of economics theory, everything is pretty straightforward. The supply price rises or drops to meet the demand and voilà – the market is in perfect balance. In the real world, this can involve new businesses opening, or old businesses changing what they do. Watching new business come out of the woodwork (pun intended) is fun to see!

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